Those baffling Bulldogs surprised us again Saturday night in Athens, delivering another stunning performance.
Their 34-7 decision over Auburn defied all manner of description. The same team that got hammered in Jacksonville two weeks ago grabbed the other end of the tool and pounded Auburn for the final 56 minutes of the game.
We expected Auburn to open the game by motoring easily down the field for a touchdown. The Tigers hadn’t been held below 20 points in two years; they arrived averaging 38.7 points per game.
No one imagined that would be Auburn’s final score. Georgia’s defense ended every subsequent series by waltzing — or leaping — off the field, as the faithful shook their heads and uttered collective “wows.”
How to explain Georgia’s amazing win? Try these thoughts:
The Georgia defense: After scoring, Auburn’s next three drives each went six plays, punt. The fourth went four plays and ended the first half.
“On the first drive, they converted some third downs and we could not get off the field,” coach Mark Richt told georgiadogs.com. “After that, we did a little better job on first down, and some penalties got them in trouble and behind the yardage. On third and long, we could pin our ears back and get after them a little bit. The down linemen really did a great job of maintaining their gap integrity. I thought that the defensive line did a super job.”
“We just ran to the ball on every play,” added linebacker Amarlo Herrera. “We practiced that way all week. We practiced with the mindset that we were going to get to the ball and we weren’t going to let them run on us.”
Clock control: The best way to stop the Auburn offense? Keep it off the field. Despite the secondary being exposed as the weak link in Auburn’s defense, Georgia chose to run right at it. Hutson Mason threw only 19 passes. Georgia ran the ball 52 times, amassing 289 yards.
The result? In the first quarter, Auburn won the time of possession battle, 10:27 to 4:33. Over the last three quarters, Georgia won, 27:49 to 17:11. A brilliant strategy, especially with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb running the ball.
“Todd was back; you just give him the ball,” guard Greg Pyke told The Associated Press. “Once he gets tired, Nick comes in. It’s amazing to have those two guys back there.”
Georgia coached aggressively: On its opening possession, after Gurley’s kickoff return touchdown was called back for holding and Isaiah McKenzie dropped a likely touchdown pass, Georgia ran a fake punt. The play worked beautifully, but Georgia incurred an ineligible receiver penalty.
“You hate to have those calls,” Richt told georgiadogs.com. “But the players knew we as a staff were going to be aggressive, and they fed off that.”
Especially in the second quarter, when Georgia’s first long drive of the game stalled, leaving fourth-and-one at the Auburn 9-yard-line.
Richt again: “I was going to kick it, but the clock was winding down and we were about to get a delay, so I called timeout. I asked coach Bobo if we went for it what play he liked. He explained the play and had faith in it, so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It turned out to be big for us. The guys loved it; they all wanted to go for it.”
Chubb scored on the play, putting Georgia ahead for good, 14-7.
Bad breaks didn’t linger: In Jacksonville, Georgia never overcame the fake-field-goal touchdown. Saturday, Georgia shrugged off Auburn’s opening drive, Gurley’s penalized kickoff return, McKenzie’s drop, and the penalized fake punt, all in the first six minutes. Herrera again: “We just kept playing ball. We just kept playing. We played with confidence the whole time.”
Georgia came to play: The consensus from the Auburn locker room was that Georgia simply outplayed Auburn.
“We got it handed to us tonight,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn told georgiadogs.com. “We knew Georgia is a strong running team, and they wore us down in the third and fourth quarters.”
Leading 27-7 with 11:25 remaining, Georgia took over on its own 2-yard line following a Herrera interception. Georgia proceeded to march 98 yards in 11 plays (10 runs and an incomplete pass) and run, literally, 6:34 off the clock. Chubb’s 11-yard touchdown run ended all doubt.
Added Auburn defensive back Jonathan Jones, “They brought it. In all three phases, they showed up and brought it.”
“Pretty much, they beat us up front,” said linebacker Kris Frost. “And guys were getting up on the linebackers. They did a good job, and they’re a great team. The energy was good, but Georgia just did better or matched that, and they executed their game plan.”
Homefield advantage: Playing Between the Hedges for the first time in six weeks, the Dogs were encouraged by a crowd that stayed on its feet and roared throughout the game.
“The fans were spectacular, the students were ready, the Dog Walk was everything we hoped for, the band was great, and it took everybody to have this kind of performance,” Richt said. “We were hoping we could be energized by our fans and that we could energize our fans by our play, and that’s what happened. The crowd was primed for a great night.
“That’s about as much fun as I’ve had as coach at Georgia, and it’s because of our fans and the players involved.”
Denton Ashway is a columnist for The Times. His column appears weekly.